Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness

Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness

CAN A WOMAN BE SMART, EMPOWERED, "AND "HAPPY ? Happiness has become a serious business. Where twentiethcentury psychology focused on depression and illness, in the new millennium scientists have begun focusing on "positive psychology"--the study of happiness. Ariel Gore first became intrigued by this subject when she discovered that Positive Psychology was the most popular...

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Title:Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness
Author:Ariel Gore
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Edition Language:English

Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness Reviews

  • Elevate Difference

    This short but meaningful book is a smart combination of self-help, memoir, and academic study. Gore does not surmise a remedy for the blues, she does not use her life as an anecdote to overcome defeat or as a guiding light toward beatitude, nor does she use statistics and theory to expose her education. Instead, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness is a collection of wise womanhood, the crannies of optimism that are too often ignored.

    With eloquent emotional pacing, Go

    This short but meaningful book is a smart combination of self-help, memoir, and academic study. Gore does not surmise a remedy for the blues, she does not use her life as an anecdote to overcome defeat or as a guiding light toward beatitude, nor does she use statistics and theory to expose her education. Instead, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness is a collection of wise womanhood, the crannies of optimism that are too often ignored.

    With eloquent emotional pacing, Gore forms a convincing argument that happiness, particularly among women, has been historically understudied and oversimplified in her academic field. She asks, “How is it that psychology— once envisioned as a great healing art—has gotten to this place where our neuroses are considered so much more valid than our resiliences?” Gore bravely takes on the secret of joy by combining her personal memoirs with history, science, and first person accounts of real women experiencing real happiness. Her words have the contagious effect of positivism without the obnoxious, evangelistic ethos found so often in the self-help aisle. As Gore says herself, “I don't like to think I'm uncomfortable around cheerful people, but there's something of a missionary vibe here that seems odd…”

    Perhaps there are so many of these self-help books because their authors know it's not just the ideas, but the time spent thinking about and interpreting those ideas that can actually improve lives. Just like thinking about food can make you hungrier, thinking about happiness can make you happier. If an author can induce self-reflection, they have done their part. Certainly Gore has, as she encourages us individually to use our hearts and minds to actualize a new psychology of happiness.

    Using what she calls a "liberation psychology forum," hundreds of women give verbal and written feedback on issues raised by Gore. Combined, these issues allude to the macro question left open throughout the pages: whether we, at this moment, are living our lives. If our answer is no, this book proposes joy as the powerful tool that can give us “the courage to make the universe we dream.”

    What Gore does is play hostess at a dinner party with a dozen fascinating women. She introduces us, and in brief encounters we are told stories of happiness, unhappiness, success and defeat. Before you know it the party is over. You drive yourself home without turning on the radio, just thinking, and you lie awake at night because you feel joy—you feel alive.

    Review by Katy Pine

  • Meg

    One of the best books I've read in a while. Ariel Gore takes a critical look at the positive psychology movement. However, unlike Barbara Ehrenreich's book on the same topic (which came out around the same time), this book offers a more nuanced and complex analysis of happiness, specifically around the question of what happiness means for women and how this relates to positive psychology approaches. The book is a nicely-done interweaving of memoir/ personal account with intellectual analysis and

    One of the best books I've read in a while. Ariel Gore takes a critical look at the positive psychology movement. However, unlike Barbara Ehrenreich's book on the same topic (which came out around the same time), this book offers a more nuanced and complex analysis of happiness, specifically around the question of what happiness means for women and how this relates to positive psychology approaches. The book is a nicely-done interweaving of memoir/ personal account with intellectual analysis and discussion of research. A few points I particularly appreciated:

    - Gore's open-minded stance (not being attached to "positive psychology is good for women" or "it's bad for women")

    - Her unapologetic and joyous feminism

    - Her honoring of choice (happiness might mean having children or not having children; working outside the home or not; being conventional or not)

    A quote I really enjoyed:

    "Each time we learn something new about human nature or invent a new way of thinking about it, we have to ask: Will this information be used for liberation or exploitation? Will it be used to heal us or to make us feel crazy and alone? Will it be used to empower us or to keep us in our places?

    "Why aren't psychology students given textbooks full of all the ways in which people can be healthy, soulful, and ever evolving?... Why isn't there a giant required textbook that expands on each of these various kinds of happiness? Instead of narcissistic and antisocial, we could diagnose ourselves and each other as 'tactile and fun' or 'predominantly inspired by art and humor.'"

    My only tiny criticism: I really enjoyed the parts where she describes her own foray into different prescriptions for happiness (e.g. a gratitude journal) and reflects on them. At a few points, though she mentions having tried some methods which she doesn't really describe in detail in the book (like yoga), and I really wanted to hear more of her experiences with these.

  • Lauren

    I’ve been anxious to review this book since I first cracked it open in September. I found the book on Amazon, after a summer of working with a therapist myself trying to sort out my depression, and had the intention of ordering it but in September I decided to get it through interlibrary loan and the day it arrived through interlibrary loan I sat in my room and plowed through sixty-six pages without once glancing up to look at the clock. Why was a book on psychology so engrossing to me?

  • Deb

    *Positive psychology for the rest of us,*

    This book made me happy. So happy that I read it twice.

    A (wo)manifesto for happiness, _Bluebird_ tailors the newly emerging field of positive psychology to fit the rest of us--i.e., females. As Ariel herself explains: "This is a book about shaping our own realities--about better understanding our emotional lives so we might become more active players in their creation--so I think it's important to consider in what ways we create our realities

    *Positive psychology for the rest of us,*

    This book made me happy. So happy that I read it twice.

    A (wo)manifesto for happiness, _Bluebird_ tailors the newly emerging field of positive psychology to fit the rest of us--i.e., females. As Ariel herself explains: "This is a book about shaping our own realities--about better understanding our emotional lives so we might become more active players in their creation--so I think it's important to consider in what ways we create our realities. Because as it turns out, women's notions about personal happiness are all tangled up with our ideas about privilege, selfishness, and social responsibility."

    And, Ariel's book helps us untangle ourselves from those ingrained societal ideas and scripts about happiness.

    Sure--as the prolific research flying off the presses of positive psychology is showing--ingredients such as kindness, gratitude, meditation, relationships, inspiration, accomplishments, and metaphysical worthiness are essential for our happiness. But, as Ariel uncovers, even more crucial is being able to rejoice in the midst of suffering. In her own brilliantly illuminating words, Ariel concludes that:

    "There is no 'happily ever after.' There is only meditation, action, change, friendship, idea, inspiration, creation.

    We spin this light out of darkness."

    Other crucial factors of happiness she discovers include having the courage to question the "scripts for happiness" and being able to cultivate a "a childlike curiosity coupled with a very grown-up understanding of self-respect and self-protection."

    In contrast to other books on happiness, this one does not offer a one-size-fits-all script. Instead, it teaches us how to lose the societal scripts and create our own beautifully improvised life performances by tuning in to our innate preferences for joy.

    Happiness is in the heart of the beholder.

  • Lasara Allen

    I am reading Ariel Gore's "Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness" for the first time. The fact that it's taken me this long to get to it is a bit of an embarrassment, as Ariel is both a friend, a peer, and she mentioned me in the book itself!

    Another reason it's ridiculous it's take me this long to get to it is that Ariel is, I believe, one of the great writers of our generation. Utterly and easily readable, she makes a topic that could be stilted and distant deeply and personally

    I am reading Ariel Gore's "Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness" for the first time. The fact that it's taken me this long to get to it is a bit of an embarrassment, as Ariel is both a friend, a peer, and she mentioned me in the book itself!

    Another reason it's ridiculous it's take me this long to get to it is that Ariel is, I believe, one of the great writers of our generation. Utterly and easily readable, she makes a topic that could be stilted and distant deeply and personally accessible to her readers.

    Employing her trademarks of personal revelation, inclusivity, and dry wit, Ariel takes the reader on an engaging and thorough journey through the history and application of the technologies and application of inspiring hope and joy in our lives, all the while gently dispelling the notion that we can easily "create our own realities".

    Taking the blame off women for our conditioning to please, Ariel gives us the long-needed permission to access the full range of our emotions. I say long-needed because part of getting to true joy is the recognition of true pain, and true dissatisfaction.

    Ariel's tone and flowing, conversational style make this book read like a conversation with a dear friend, yet is peppered with astute critical analysis on everything from the concept of, "you create your own reality", to the often subtle cultural indoctrination of girls and women to create a "pleasant" environment, instead of creating waves.

    Ariel's strength and vulnerability offer a thread of personalized tenderness that allows us to experience our own rage, and recognize our own joy, through her stories and the stories of other women.

    As a teacher, activist, and "living out loud" feminist, I find in the pages of Bluebird an opportunity to inquire more deeply into the areas where I give over my voice, shy away from my own strength in order to make those around me more "comfortable", and allow myself to fall into patterns of care-taking, when taking care of myself would be a better choice.

    Thank you, Ariel, for writing yet another world-changing book. You are a beacon of cultural change, and I deeply love and respect you for it.

  • Leah

    I love this book. It was inspiring and comforting, taking true-to-life accounts from real women about their sources of happiness.

    Favorite quotes:

    Page 32

    We create our own reality thusly.

    Without denial or narcissism, we muster the courage to face the world as it is, and we begin to take an active role in its transformation. We muster the courage to face our own lives just as they are and, even in the midst of suffering, rejoice.

    Page 38

    As women... we were

    I love this book. It was inspiring and comforting, taking true-to-life accounts from real women about their sources of happiness.

    Favorite quotes:

    Page 32

    We create our own reality thusly.

    Without denial or narcissism, we muster the courage to face the world as it is, and we begin to take an active role in its transformation. We muster the courage to face our own lives just as they are and, even in the midst of suffering, rejoice.

    Page 38

    As women... we were supposed to concern ourselves with whether or not everyone else felt at ease.

    Page 39 (about mothers with schizophrenic children)

    This laid a pretty heavy burden squarely at a woman's feet for failing to exhibit the right emotions at precisely the right times.

    Page 41

    ...when I'm pushed toward conflict, something inside of me shifts. I have an almost childish phobia of confrontation. I don't want people to be made at me. I don't want to be accused of trying to dominate anyone with rage or force. Before I know it, my authentic emotional offering has morphed into full-on passive aggression.

    Page 42

    A generation of nontraditional gender talk and the fact that I didn't need my boyfriend in order to survive hadn't changed my basic belief that love, and my earnest emotional work, would have the power to change everything.

    ...our role is to affirm, enhance, and celebrate the well-being and status of pretty much everyone but ourselves.

    Page 53

    But here's the trouble: the manufacture of happiness actually leads to emotional burnout. There's an ironic correlation between forced cheerfulness and depression. And when cheerfulness is considered the rule, even ordinary sadness or frustration--feelings that would be considered normal in many other cultures and at many other times in history--can easily be interpreted as illness.

    (Arlie Russell Hochschild) "And so in the country that most publicly celebrates the individual, more people privately wonder, without tracing the question to its deepest social root: What do I really feel?"

    Page 54

    Our attainment of happiness has been used to measure our success and personal worth. As women, we've been conditioned to see it as our job to set the emotional tone in our families, our relationships, our workplaces, and our sporting events. We've been told by a thousand doctors, psychologists, advertisers, and career coaches what we should do if we want to be happy. Failing that, we've learned how to

    happy.

    Page 61 (on why depression affects more women than men)

    The most popular explanations pointed to hormones, societal inequalities, and a feminine tendency to silence ourselves in relationships... If our trouble was rooted in the way we've been conditioned to surrender our will in relationships, the answer might lie in personal empowerment.

    Page 64-65

    A woman's role as the cheerful "sunshine of the circle around her" had by now become deeply rooted in American culture. Any failure to emanate that sunshine had come to be seen as abnormal--even disturbed. Consciously or unconsciously, researchers may have been more likely to see a woman's melancholy as cause for concern. Maybe it was clear that women would be more likely to seek psychiatric treatment not only for immobilizing depression but also for ordinary lack of cheerfulness.

    Page 68

    Depression is the summary of the way women have described feeling when we hit a particularly dark and immobilizing emotional knot.

    Page 71

    "If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn't matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or ten thousand years--we turn on the light and it is illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on." --Sharon Salzberg

    Page 75

    We all fantasize that some life change will cheer us up--permanently. We'll get rich, get skinny, get some new and improved gadget in the office, or we'll get swept off our glass-slipped feet and get married.

    Some people will never be particularly happy. Each of us has a set point--contented or grumpy.

    Page 76

    What does all this say about those of us who actively seek happiness? And what does it say about our prospects? Are we doomed to spend our lives pining away in vain after the love we hear about in pop songs, the wealth of bronzed celebrities, or the enlightened bliss of Buddhist nuns? Would none of these things make the least bit of difference? Are we wasting our time in all this pursuit?

    Page 78

    So it is that women have a harder time adapting to the end of a marriage, and men take it harder when they find themselves out of work. It's not the relationship or the job itself so much as the loss of something we've invested our egos in.

    Page 80 (scientific theory)

    ...fully 40 percent of our happiness is under our control and depends on "intentional activities"--mental and behavioral strategies we can use to counteract adaptation's downward pull.

    Page 85

    ...positive emotions

    inspire necessary action. Joy sparks our urge to play, interest and curiosity lead us to explore, contentment relaxes us enough to savor and integrate our experiences, love inspires us to nurture and protect each other. We invent, construct, cozy up, and survive.

    Page 87

    Positive emotions--and the focus on positive emotions--teach us to thrive.

    Page 89 (according to Barbara Frederickson's "undo hypothesis")

    ...happiness works its magic by producing a quick unwinding of pent-up tension, restoring the cardiovascular system to normal. We bounce back from stress. Some people seem to be naturally good at this recovery. The rest of us... can deliberately harness the positive and calming emotions we need.

    The lingering effects of the stress were undone by good humor. Negative emotions narrow our focus--or what Frederickson calls our "momentary thought-action repertoire"--and positive emotions broaden this same focus or repertoire.

    ..."broadening at the cognitive level mediates undoing at the cardiovascular level." In other words, we open our minds to steady our hearts.

    Page 92-93

    Students don't come to my workshops for therapy, but by telling their stories, they begin to see their experiences--especially their negative experiences--as part of a longer life narrative. When we can see the big picture, and begin to understand some part of the vast context in which things happen, that seeing eases the resonance of whatever it is that haunts us.

    We can put the undo effect to use by meeting our experiences with good humor, by actively seeking positive emotional experiences on the heels of our stress-fests, or, at the very least, by allowing ourselves time to relax and imagine how our crappy days might fit into a larger, less crappy context.

    Page 105 (Tal Ben-Shahar,

    He brings up the concept of "metaphysical worthiness" as a prerequisite for a happy life. How can we enjoy ourselves if we don't think we deserve to enjoy ourselves? How happy can we be if we feel as if we have to apologize for the fact that we're even here?

    ...women often have an even harder time when it comes to remembering our intrinsic worth. Our inner nurturers might be beautifully developed, but that development doesn't always include the sense that we, too, deserve to be taken care of--that we have a right and a responsibility to take care of ourselves. "I think we are intrinsically maternal beings," Calliope said at our liberation psychology forum. "And we like to be mothered. I think we like caring for and being cared for. Happiness comes when we are balanced in both roles." We can only find that balance when we feel equally worthy of each.

  • Ciara

    i feel so weird & conflicted about this book! i guess i feel weird & conflicted about ariel gore's work in general. in the abstract, i feel like i enjoy her writing, but when i'm actually reading it, it doesn't seem to go anywhere & i'm not really into it. that's exactly how i feel about this book: i enjoyed the process of reading it (which took all of two & a half hours--i couldn't believe what a quick read it was) & i feel like there were even some insights, but it's all ju

    i feel so weird & conflicted about this book! i guess i feel weird & conflicted about ariel gore's work in general. in the abstract, i feel like i enjoy her writing, but when i'm actually reading it, it doesn't seem to go anywhere & i'm not really into it. that's exactly how i feel about this book: i enjoyed the process of reading it (which took all of two & a half hours--i couldn't believe what a quick read it was) & i feel like there were even some insights, but it's all just a mishmash of fleeting nothingness in my head now. & i just read it two days ago!

    this is kind of like the gateway book between barabra ehrenreich's

    on the disappointing side, & gretchen rubin's

    on the unexpectedly good side. ariel is not exactly inventing fire here concept-wise, but she did manage to cover a lot of similar ground with her own unique perspective. she examines a lot of the same "positive psychology" literature that so repulsed ehrenreich, & even attended the exact same positive psychology national conference, but rather than picking apart the discipline to shore up her belief in its utter ueslessness, she adopted a rubin-esque attitude, & tried to understand how she could make certain appealing aspects of positive psychology work for her on an individual basis. & she did it all with a very conscious grounding in feminism, seeking to unpack the ways in which women are trained to believe that pursuing their own happiness is selfish, or that they can best find happiness by making the people around them feel comfortable & nurtured. she also examined the fact that depression most commonly affects women, & delves into the history of depression as an official psychological diagnosis & the first anti-depressants ever developed to discover that the "cure" for depression was discovered before depression was a diagnosis, & most of the people who have been studied to develop the diagnosis have been women. she speculates that the gendered manner in which women reported their symptoms in the 60s, 70s, & 80s has influenced the diagnostic criteria so that more women are diagnosed with depression now. i found all of this very interesting.

    & call me a hippie, but i was pretty into a lot of what ariel wrote about keeping a gratitude journal, trying to write down happy moments, understanding what truly makes you feel happy as opposed to what you think should make you happy, etc. maybe i am having a third-life crisis or something, but i have been thinking a lot about happiness & its elusiveness in my life, & i am into trying to keep a gratitude journal & record happy moments as they occur if it might help me hang on to happiness better. i even took the weird quiz ariel took at the positive psychology conference & discovered that although, by objective criteria, i have all the makings of a slightly happier life than the average comfortable westerner, i subjectively report that i am far less happy than the average comfortable westerner. if there is a way i can train myself to appreciate what i have, i want to try it. i was also into the stuff about developing a five-year plan & all the life coach stuff...yeah, i know. i'm into that stuff, okay? i think i could possibly be an awesome life coach. (just not for myself, apparently.)

    my critiques: for all its good qualities, the book was ultimately pretty skimpy on delivering significant satisfaction. it just didn't feel weighty in some weird way. i don't know if it was the structure (which kind of oscillates between personal narrative & dry research without establishing a comfortable continuity in the voices) or what. & although i am really interested in how women are possibly socialized to not value themselves, the entire question of "women & happiness" sets up a weird essentialist gender category that i was not 100% on board with. in general though...i was into it, more or less.

  • Kate Elliott

    Don't let the chintzy cover fool you. This is a great companion piece to the works of Gilligan, Gilbert, Gubar, and Brown. Also provides much needed critique of some of the blind spots of positive psychology-- gender, class, cross-cultural differences. Functions both as an academic exercise and Gore's own personal journey in a seamless fashion.

  • Christina

    Basically, it was like happiness light. What I liked was when the author shared her own story about her pursuit of happiness. If she had stuck with that approach, the book would have been much more interesting. Basically, she didn't introduce me to anything that I didn't already know. Furthermore, she somehow missed all the yoga-centric or Buddhist views of happiness. So, overall, I was disappointed.

  • Rachel

    I just finished the book Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore. Overall, I liked it. I think there are bits and pieces that are problematic, and some parts that really resonated with me, so overall, I'd say it was good.

    The take-away message that I really liked was that we live in a culture where being unhappy is seen as a problem that needs to be fixed. Yet, the unhappiness is the way for us to see, feel and recognize the happiness. Gore talked about this

    I just finished the book Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore. Overall, I liked it. I think there are bits and pieces that are problematic, and some parts that really resonated with me, so overall, I'd say it was good.

    The take-away message that I really liked was that we live in a culture where being unhappy is seen as a problem that needs to be fixed. Yet, the unhappiness is the way for us to see, feel and recognize the happiness. Gore talked about this in the framework of motherhood (how women aren't supposed to complain about how hard it is, but the lows and the highs are what make it truly the experience it is.) Other "keys" to happiness are gratitude, self care, and "flow" - getting lost in something that you enjoy, feeling productive and forgetting the world around you. I've experienced this in some ways, but it's been awhile.

    The big point that I agreed with is control/self determination. Part of it comes from mindset, to say "Ok, this is the thing I am going to do now, this is why I am doing it, and this is why it is worthwhile." She talked about this with reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Harriet Beecher Stowe guide to being the perfect hausfrau - essentially being told you have to do housework, and that it is your destiny and you have no choice but to serve and provide for others will make you miserable. But if you go into it and say "I'm doing laundry right now, because the house is quiet, I've got the time, I can use it to think about things, and it can become a meditative activity" then it doesn't have the oppression that the "demands of housework" typically have.

    I've experienced that level of "meditative domesticity" but I think it's rather an unfair comparison, since I don't have kids to clean up after, the laundry doesn't get entirely out of hand, and the bathrooms stay relatively clean. I think there is definitely a societal pressure to the way women are supposed to approach happiness and "being" - and it does get divided up into class and race distinctions, some of which is addressed by Gore in the book.

    Part memoir, part academic research, part social commentary, it's a little bit of everything, but does nothing in an outstanding way, but I'd still recommend it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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